A humorous, optimistic blog about Food, Family, Friends and Faith

Working my way through the book “1001 Recipes to Die For” is proving an interesting experiment. I’m finding that there are a lot fewer foods “to die for” than the editors of this book think there are. Consider my three most recent items: Penne all’Arrabiata, Hoppin’ John and a Bakewell tart. The only one that came close to being worth departing this mortal coil was the Bakewell tart, and then only when warm from the oven.

The pasta dish is something I’ve heard of and seen on restaurant menus over the years. I was excited to try it because I LOVE spicy food. Add heat to anything and I’m there. However, I was ridiculously disappointed in this sauce. It’s basically just spicy tomato sauce. No big deal. I had it for two meals (one dinner and the other breakfast) and the rest now languishes at the back of my refrigerator waiting for garbage day. Just in case you’d like to try it yourself, here’s the recipe:

Penne all’Arrabiata

  • 5 T olive oil
  • crushed red pepper flakes (I used about 1/2 tsp.)
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 14-oz. cans diced tomatoes (I used stewed and whole)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • fresh basil leaves (optional)
  • penne pasta
  • grating cheese (Parmesan, Romano, whatever you like)
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions until desired tenderness. Drain, reserving one cup liquid. Set pasta aside.
  2. While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil over medium high heat in a large saucepan and add chopped onion and garlic and saute for a few minutes until translucent. Add pepper flakes and stir until they release their fragrance (30 seconds or so).
  3. Meanwhile, pour the tomatoes and their juices in the blender and puree. Pour into the onion mixture.
  4. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until tomato foam goes away and oil begins to separate out, about 15 minutes. Add red wine vinegar and stir, cooking an additional 5 minutes. If you would like, add a handful of freshly torn basil leaves at the end of cooking.
  5. Stir cooked pasta into sauce, adding reserved pasta water if needed to loosen the sauce. Serve in pasta bowls with generous amounts of grated cheese. You can also fry up some stale bread crumbs in olive oil with fresh thyme as a garnish.

* * * * *

Hoppin’ John was something I really looked forward to. I love legume dishes with ham. Split pea and lentil soups are my favorites in the cold winter months. Since this is a traditional southern New Year’s dish, I decided to make it to celebrate the new school year. I dug out a ham bone from the freezer and bought a bag of peas. I made the dish with the only variation being the substitution of chicken bouillon cubes and water for the chicken stock. I think that was my error because the dish was delicious but very salty. Certainly not worth dying for, but the next time I make it I’ll use unsalted chicken stock and adjust the saltiness at the end. I will make this for New Years, but probably cut the recipe in half. It makes a LOT.

Hoppin’ John

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 ham bone
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup each celery and green pepper, chopped
  • 1 T garlic, smashed
  • 1 lb. dry black eyed peas, soaked overnight, drained and rinsed
  • 1 qt. chicken stock (I used 4 chicken bouillon cubes and 4 cups water)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 2 tsp. Cajun or Creole seasoning or cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper
  1. Sear ham hock in oil, browning on all sides. Add onion, celery, green pepper and garlic and cook, stirring, 4 minutes until vegetables soften (If you need to remove the bone to make more room to stir, that’s fine). Add everything else, including the ham bone if you removed it. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 40 minutes, or until peas are tender, stirring occasionally. If needed, add more liquid (I wound up adding another cup of water).
  2. Remove ham bone and let sit until cool enough to handle. Remove meat from bone and shred, adding back into the finished beans. Serve over rice or with cornbread, if desired.

* * * * *

I had high hopes for the Bakewell tart. I love almond in all of its incarnations. Frangipane, toasted almonds, ground almonds, marzipan, Chinese almond cookies all make my heart glad. So the creation of a tart with almond in both the crust and the filling had me eager for a bite. I looked at several recipes and none mentioned a specific type of jam that should be used, so I went with a homemade peach jam from my friend Terri.

As I went to make this recipe, my 23-year old food processor died a horrible death so I made the crust by hand. The directions below list that method. When the tart, browned and bubbling and oozing almond goodness, was pulled from the oven, it was all I could do to not dive right in. However, I’ve been on the receiving end of hot jam and it’s not fun. I wisely waited nearly an hour before trying my first piece.

I thought I had died and gone to heaven! The crust was firm, yet flaky and sweet, the jam had cooled enough so it was no longer liquid and the top was browned and firm and unbelievably tasty. I ate one fairly small piece, then another. I shared it with my friends and neighbors, and even my husband enjoyed it (he’s currently doing Nutrisystem but “fell off the wagon” to try a piece). This has gone on my “Death Row Final Dinner” list.

Since my daughter was due home from college the weekend I made it, I decided to try to veganize the recipe so she could try it. I realized that I had made some errors in measurement on the original, AND used the wrong kind of sugar, so I corrected those problems on the vegan version and the tart was a miserable failure. I have more work to do to create a good vegan version, so for now it is presented here in all its buttery, eggy goodness. I don’t know how close this is to a real Bakewell Tart from England, but this is the upstate New York version. Enjoy!

Bakewell Tart

for the pastry

  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 T granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 oz. (1 stick) cold butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp. real almond extract
  • 1-2 T cold water
  1. Mix flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Using the large holes on a box grater, grate the butter into the flour mixture. Mix well with a fork, separating the butter shreds and coating them with flour. Don’t smush it all up – you want some shreds of butter to be visible.
  2. In a separate bowl, beat together egg yolks and butter. Add to flour mixture and stir with fork to thoroughly incorporate. Add water a tablespoon at a time and stir to make a sticky dough. Form into a ball, place in a baggie and flatten to form a disc. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

for the frangipane

  • 1 stick plus 1 T butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 T granulated sugar
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 T ground almonds
  • 2 T flour
  1. Cream butter and sugar until very fluffy. Scrape bowl and add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. The mixture may look curdled, but that’s OK – keep going. Add almond extract. Scrape down bowl. Spoon in nuts and flour and mix well.

to assemble tart

  1. Roll out chilled dough on a floured board to 1/4″ thickness. Transfer to 9 or 10″ tart pan with removable sides. Trim edges. Chill in freezer 15 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 400F. Remove pastry shell from freezer and spread with 1 cup of jam. Top carefully with frangipane, spreading out to completely cover jam. Sprinkle with a handful of sliced almonds. Bake 30 minutes, until browned and puffed. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes. Cut a gigantic wedge and enjoy!

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